Giving a voice to the victims of crime
The French legal system could provide valuable pointers to reforms that could improve the fate of victims in Ireland and make the criminal justice system more efficient
RECENT ARTICLES on the views of victims of crime on the Irish criminal justice system in The Irish Times highlighted how dissatisfied the victims can often feel with the process and how much they feel removed from having any meaningful input into the system as they seek to get justice for themselves or their loved ones.
One such victim of crime, who lost her son in a knife attack, told The Irish Times how she had lost hope and trust in the justice system, and her story seems to be mirrored in the experiences of others as evidenced by the campaign of Advic, which argues for a rebalancing of the Irish criminal justice system and the recognition of the families of homicide victims.
In such circumstances, it might be instructive to look at the area of criminal law of other countries with a view to trying to make progress towards a better system of justice, both for the individuals in a particular country and also perhaps for a common system with regards to the principles of mutual assistance and mutual consideration.
It is not my purpose to give any lessons to anybody; the French are often considered to be arrogant, which is far from being clever. But, based on my 30-year professional experience, including 10 years in an American law firm, I would like to highlight some important differences between the Irish and the French criminal procedure.
I am also familiar with the feelings of relatives of victims of crimes, especially since my own father was murdered in March 1997 in the south of France. Fortunately for my family and myself, the murderers were arrested a couple days after the crime and rightfully sentenced in court.
When a member of your family is killed, you want to know the facts. This rapidly becomes an obsession. What happened? Did the person involved suffer and for how long? Frequently you also feel guilty. I should have been there, or I should have said or done something that may have prevented the crime. The feelings are not always rational until you get to know what happened.
I think that a victim can only recover from the tragedy of a crime against a close relative or friend when he or she knows what happened and has the relief of seeing the killer condemned by a criminal court with an adequate and proper sentence . Otherwise, when you stay in the dark and the case remains unsolved, the pain is permanent, which can be very destructive over a long-term period.